Checkout my article over at ForeignPolicy.com, Censoring the Voice of America: Why is it OK to broadcast terrorist propaganda but not taxpayer-funded media reports?
Earlier this year, a community radio station in Minneapolis asked Voice of America (VOA) for permission to retransmit its news coverage on the increasingly volatile situation in Somalia. The VOA audio files it requested were freely available online without copyright or any licensing requirements. The radio station’s intentions were simple enough: Producers hoped to offer an informative, Somali-language alternative to the terrorist propaganda that is streaming into Minneapolis, where the United States’ largest Somali community resides. Over the last year or more, al-Shabab, an al Qaeda linked Somali militia, has successfully recruited two dozen or more Somali-Americans to return home and fight. The radio station was grasping for a remedy.
It all seemed straightforward enough until VOA turned down the request for the Somali-language programming. In the United States, airing a program produced by a U.S. public diplomacy radio or television station such as VOA is illegal. Oddly, though, airing similar programs produced by foreign governments — or even terrorist groups — is not. As a result, the same professional journalists, editors, and public diplomacy officers whom we trust to inform and engage the world are considered more threatening to Americans than terrorist propaganda — like the stuff pouring into Minneapolis. …
In an age where a teenager with a keyboard can wield more influence than an F-22 Raptor, the time has long past for the United States to change its public diplomacy and communications strategy accordingly. …
Read the whole thing at ForeignPolicy.com. More information related to the article is below.
The irony, as some readers have pointed out offline, is that the community radio station could have just downloaded the audio files and rebroadcast them. They are, after all, government products and thus in the public domain, hence the line in the article about without copyright or license. In an earlier draft of the article was the example of a Washington, D.C., area radio station (WFED, 1500 AM) doing just that last year through sometime early this year when they rebroadcast six hours of VOA material 10a – 1p Tuesdays and Thursdays.
It seems to many of us that VOANews is increasingly used a source in the print media. Which is technically illegal, but why? It is also noteworthy that we’re seeing a seeming increase in US media citing VOANews. As of yet it’s still a subjective view (noticed by many), but a friend is doing a study on it. These citations are illegal under current law but the intent of the law until the initial change in 1972 by Senator Fulbright who declared America’s international broadcasting as “Cold War relics.”
With specific regard to the firewall, it is important to understand that the prohibition on domestic dissemination was to protect the Government and the public from the State Department, not the public from the Government. The legislation was debated and passed in a era where Congress was constantly telling State to remove socialists and Communist and Soviet sympathizers (this article “The American Twang“ in Time may be enlightening). It was a time where Congress was so upset with the quality of America’s international broadcasting that it slashed funding by 50% (sound familiar?).
Interesting factoid: the concern over the State Department’s loyalty was such that a Congressman suggested that VOA scripts be reviewed by the Daughters of the American Revolution prior to broadcast.
The popular belief today (and for the last two or more decades) has been the prohibition was the “Anti-Goebbels” provision to prevent the Government from propagandizing the American public. In reality, there were two other provisions in the Act that addressed that issue directly. The first was the requirement that State (remember this was a State Department function not a White House function) maximize its use of private resources, which included both material and transmission capabilities. The other was a prohibition on the creation of a monopoly – a key to the effectiveness of both Nazi propaganda in Germany before World War II and the Committee of Public Information (or CPI or Creel Commission) in the US in the lead up to World War I.
For deep background on the intent of the 79th and 80th Congress that debated and ultimately passed the Smith-Mundt Act for President Truman’s signature in January 1948, see the draft paper Rethinking Smith-Mundt (140kb PDF) to be revised and expanded soon.
See also these related posts:
- Smith-Mundt Symposium: A Discourse to Shape America’s Discourse
- Is Social Media More Trustworthy than Voice of America?
- Broadcasting Board of Governors: empty seats at the public diplomacy table
- In America? Smith-Mundt means no SMS updates on the President’s Ghana speech for you!
- Senator Edward Zorinsky and Banning Domestic Dissemination by USIA in 1985
- Smith-Mundt: Myths, Facts, and Recommendations
4 thoughts on “Why is it OK to broadcast terrorist propaganda but not taxpayer-funded media?”
The semantics of your useage of the word “terrorist” etc is QUITE loaded, and pales in comparison to our terroristic carpet bombing of THE CIVILIAN CITY of Baghdad Iraq at the beginning of our illegitimate war on Iraq.To wit: Western Jihad: Yes, We Have Suicide Bombers, Too, We Just Call Them ‘Heroes’ (5 pages, John Feffer, FPIF & IPS, via Alternet)
Happy “Hiroshima Day”.
The crew of the Enola Gay were ‘heroes’, not ‘terrorists’ too, in America’s collective ‘mind’, as well as the aviators who firebombed Dresden Germany and any number of other strategic targets during WWII.
The problem with the small community radio station in Minnesota is, as we used to say in the Army, “it’s easier to get forgiveness than it is permission.” They can rebroadcast it. They just can’t get VOA to help them.Witness WFED (AM) in Washington, DC (see http://www.federalnewsradio.com/?sid=1551764&nid=94 ). On Tuesday – Thursday at 11:30 a.m. they are rebroadcasting VOA’s “Issues in the News” — perfectly legitimate because they didn’t ask VOA for help (I don’t think).
Located on the voanews.com web site at http://www.voanews.com/english/disclaim.cfm are the following statements:
1. You are welcome to use any material that is published by voanews.com, or you may link to any of the web pages that Voice of America has published on the internet. There is no need to request further permission. Should you wish to establish a link to any VOA web pages, please send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Credit for any use of VOA material should be given to voanews.com, Voice of America, or VOA, and we ask that you not abridge or edit any VOA material which you may use.
2. All text, audio and video material produced exclusively by the Voice of America is public domain. However, some images and graphics are licensed for use and covered by all applicable copyright laws. See below for Specific Restrictions.
I know that in the past KCRW (FM) on the west coast repurposed VOA content. I remember seeing it on their schedule. Also, when WUST (AM) in Washington, DC started broadcasting foreign language content they were able to unencrypt VOA’s digital satellite signal and they retransmitted several of our language services.
If you’re interested in pursuing the study of what WUST (AM) did, I do have a point of contact for you.
Also, if you are looking for documentation in support of modifying Smith-Mundt to specifically allow VOA transmission within the confines of the Continental United States, I have collected data from broadcast industry experts as part of my doctoral dissertation stating that there is a NEED for VOA content in the U.S.
This is not rare to see as political interests hiding behind. VOA is one of the central medias serving the political goals in America and likewise I’ve also read articles about such medias in other countries of the world. To me the powerful people decide everything what to broadcast if this relates to politics.
I knew of the federal statute banning broadcasting of VOA news and programming inside the US.__________________
walkie talkie radio
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